Friday, May 13, 2016

Finding Bill Doans - the Drama of Discovery

I started to write again this week.

Not much, really more editing than writing, but after what amounts to a three year lay off, it really felt good.

It has been a rough three years, perhaps the roughest while I was still trying, still in denial.  Life, due to various health and situational issues, has been highly... distracting. And that is incredibly depressing.  Distraction is death to the writer.  (Also, to the driver. Literal death to the driver.  So what little remains of my attention has gone to more critical things like traffic, rather than plotting.)  This past year I more or less gave up.

Am I back?  I don't know.  Certainly not full time.  But my mind is capable of holding stories in it again.

One of the things I did to feed my need for story, and mystery puzzle in particular, was research family history.  It's satisfying in two ways -- first in filling out this amazing saga of all of these thousands of people in my family tree and how they interlock.  Second in the fact that I am acting out a mystery drama myself, as I make little discoveries.

Like the story of Bill Doans.  All my life I heard this anecdote. It's not a great drama, certainly not enough to write a story about.  It's just that my dad, when he was a little boy about four or five, was all excited one morning about visiting a neighbor's house, a guy named Bill Jones, and he ran out of the house dressed only in his underware. (Some versions of the story had him in his birthday suit.)  His brother called after him and asked where he was going.

"I'm going to Bill Doans' house!" he called and off her ran.

And that's the whole story.  If you knew my dad, you'd chuckle.  I always assumed Bill Jones was some cool older kid.  Maybe a football player or something.

But then one day I was looking at the 1940 Census, taken when my dad was four years old, and right there on the same page of the census as my dad's family was... William Jones.  He lived right next door!  OMG!  It was Bill Doans!  I found Bill Doans!!!!

William Jones turned out to be 38 years old, but he had a son near my father's age, and a couple of teenagers.  Jones was a section foreman for the Ann Arbor Railroad, where my grandfather was the telegrapher and station agent.

And now I gotta wonder about this picture of my grandfather at the depot.  Could that other guy, the one with the overalls, be Bill Doans?  Could this be another mystery solved?  Maybe. I've got some aunts and an uncle who might know. Gotta remember to ask them.

But here is the thing about the little story I just told.  It's not a story about this guy who worked on the railroad.  He's actually the Maguffin.  The drama in the story above is about me, finding the guy who worked on the railroad.

Which isn't an action scene.  If you were to dramatize that, you'd basically just show me staring at a computer screen, then jumping up and down while my cat lashes his tail in annoyance at me disturbing his sleep.

Which is why there is so much pressure on us as writers to jazz up investigation scenes and boring discoveries.  Have a cool geeky lab guy do it all off screen and just tell the detective about it.  Or have the detective discover everything in interrogation, and exciting dramatic interactions, because it would be boring to just have them read it. Right?

But you know, some of the most exciting things in an investigation happen in the quiet moments.  John Le Carre knows this -- some of the most exciting chapters in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy involve George Smiley sitting still, in a room, reading.  Movies occasionally get it.  Antonioni's BLOW UP gets it right as the photographer protagonist obsessively examines small details in his photographs -- those sequences are the best part of the movie (imho, the rest simply goes off the rails).

A more recent example is last year's SPOTLIGHT -- about investigative reporters, who uncovered the depths of the cover up of pedophile priest scandal in Boston.  No, we aren't forced to watch them sit alone in a room and read, but the story does depend on how they grasp the threads of their story by pursuing small "boring" details -- like tiny clues they find poring over many years of church directories.

Those scenes are the most exciting moments in the movie, really.  Because finding that information is a true and serious problem.  There is no hip geekster to just punch it up on a computer for them. They have to DIG and find it.  And we get to watch them dig and see them struggle and finally succeed.  Much much more dramatic.

Not every mystery or every story requires that kind of focus, but it's important for us to remember that if something is exciting enough to obsess our characters, then maybe we shouldn't hide it in a back room.  Maybe we should trust the MacGuffin. 

Anyway, that's not what I meant to talk about today -- I was going to talk about the endless inspirations that I get from reading old newspapers, but maybe that will be another post on another day.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Quick Checkin - and a Pulpy cover

Still drawing and building up some stock before finishing up more covers.  I decided, though, to post an unfinished one.  (It's ALMOST finished.)

This is a 1950s style cover, often used for hard-boiled and thrillers -- but also often (in those days) used for cozier, lighter mystery, such as Christie or Perry Mason.  This one is probably finished in terms of the art and layout, but I'm playing with typography and also have to figure keywords. 

I'm thinking that the image implies a crime thriller -- about a guy framed for a murder.  Or possibly someone who has had a blackout and doesn't know if he's killed this woman.

But it would also be right for a revenge story, a guy standing over someone who was murdered by his nemesis.

With the right title, it could also fit the old fashioned style of mystery suspense (precursor to romantic suspense) with a female hero -- if, perhaps, she stumbled upon a scene like this, and now has to contend with that dark, lurking figure who stood over the body. (Is he now after her to kill the only witness? Or is he an innocent, caught up in a web of intrigue, and she'll have to help him?)

Anyway, that's it for now.

For others updating their ROW80 challenge this mid-week, check out this ROW80 linky page.

UPDATE: finished version now up at Camille's Cover Art.  Gave it a more evocative title. Decided to stick with the same 1950s pulp font, but to go more clean and modern, and with a longer author name.  (I like to vary the names and lengths, because you have to be careful not to design for a particular name length.)

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday Update - The Well-Stocked Pantry and Geneaology

I think that, technically, I made my goal this half week.  No I didn't upload any new covers.  (More about that below.)  But I did upload 18 images to a stock site.  And I've got bunches more to upload - but it's a slow process at first.  (And they take forever to moderate the files.  Well, four days, but that's forever in Artiste terms.)

I was puzzled for a while about why the sudden slow down in producing new covers.  I have been producing 2-3 a day for over a month, and then, suddenly, I couldn't quite get to done.

Well, I figured it out.  I tend to work creatively in two modes.  I tend to either be producing lots of off-the-cuff parts of pictures -- backgrounds, shapes, sketches, etc. -- or I am putting together a great design based on those things.  And even though I'm going back and forth in any session, I do tend to lean toward one mode or the other. And for the past couple months I've been working off a large pool of unfinished art.

It's been like cooking with a full and varied pantry.  An art pantry, full of personal "stock art."  And now I've run out of yeast and flour.  Still have plenty of cocoa and sugar and milk, and a freezer full of pork chops, spices and lime juice, but no butter either.

So I'm restocking.

And now that I see it that way, I realize I should be selling stock art at stock sites. Because when I'm in "restocking" mode, I can paint up a storm on dingbats and backgrounds and silhouettes, etc.

In the meantime, I am slowly formatting Moon Child: Ready or Not for Wattpad, and I am digging into my family history stuff.  (I am writing a family history. Or researching the family in order to write it.)

I am deeply embroiled in researching a great great aunt who married above most of the family -- a DOCTOR and PROFESSOR! -- but who died in childbirth so nobody actually talked about her when I was young.  Her husband came from the same county in New York where her mother came from, and I am wondering if it was the family matchmakers at work, or if they happened across each other because she was a nurse.

As a result, I am currently scouring all the issues of the Benzie Banner from 1915 and finding all sorts of other interesting threads.

I am reminded of a sweet little barn cat I knew.  Her name was Gub Gub, and one day when she was half grown, and a big snow had caused a delay in the catfood delivery, I watched her set out from the barn in a determined and business-like way, as if she were dead-set on catching a squirrel. Except as she trotted along, little bits of snow flew away from her paws, and, well, she had to stop and pounce on them. And that stirred up more little ripples of snow, and she had to pounce on that too.  We ended up with little cat paw prints all over the area in front of the barn, but no rodents died that day of anything but the weather.  (We did get the catfood in an hour later...)

Anyway, that's geneaology. You are headed out to do one thing, and there are a million tantalizing things that crop up and distract you.  (Besides, you CAN'T write the history until you've tracked down that one more important thing.)

(Edited to add this picture of GubGub -- not the best one I have, but the best I could find on short notice.)

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

ROW80 update: Writing Rears Its Head

I don't have a lot to post today, because I'm going through a transition. Well, two of them.

One is simply that, because I decided to expand my art horizons, as it were, I've been working on things that aren't ready to post. Also, I've been doing behind the scenes stuff on Camille's Cover Art.  I added a preliminary banner, for one thing.

I'm also very slowly adding things.  Like this cover is a "branded match" with one of the first covers I put up (Maid of the Sea).  I hope to do things like branded templates, and full covers "premade" print covers.

But there is also something else....


As expected, I found that, now that I'm officially supposed to be doing art,  writing is giving me an itch.  This is the way of muses.  However, the muses got a boost from a fortune cookie I got last night, which told me that this is a good time to finish some old project.

Okay, but which old project.  I've got lots of them.

I've decided on one of the oldest and biggest: a YA-ish fantasy that I wrote back in the early 1990s.  It was well received by editors, except that they didn't like two things about it. One -- that they couldn't tell if it was YA or for adults.  And Two -- they thought it should be the first of a trilogy, which is not how I saw it at all.

It's kind of the story before the first book -- and in a sense outside the series altogether.  I have this love/hate relationship with fantasy.  I tend to find the quest and magic, and world building parts boring, but, mystery writer that I am, I find all the backstory stuff that gets left out to be utterly fascinating.  So this is kind of "the mystery of the back story" of a classic child-savior heroic fantasy.

Every one who has read it asks me when I'm going to self-publish it.  But since I don't plan to write a sequel, and I don't write that much fantasy any more, it has been on the back burner.

Well, I guess it's time to bring it out.

And I'm going to put it on Wattpad.

Which means I have to process through the 40 chapters and 130k words to figure out where the best serialization breaks are.  (Some chapters will be just fine as they are, others may have to be broken up or combined.)  And then I need to figure out how often to post.

And also whether I want to do some illustration.  I think I probably won't, because I think it requires the type of drawing I am not quick at.

In the meantime, I've decided to start saving up covers until Sunday, when I will decide to post them either at Self-Pub Book Covers or on my own site. The advantage of this is that I can be less hodge podge aobut what I post where. The disadvantage is that a daily deadline is much more compelling.  I may have to go back to it after a bit.

As usual, here is the ROW80 mid-week progress linky, where you can follow others who are in the challenge.

See you in the funny papers.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

ROW80 update - started my own cover site, sort of.

I guess I just got tired of designing without typography. (Or actually, designing with the idea that someone will do bad typography over the image.)

So this week I decided to stop posting to Self-Pub Book Covers as soon as I was done with the image design, and wait to pick and choose what I could upload there, and what would benefit from me doing the typography.

And I ended up starting a new blog: this one will act as a catalog for my premade covers.

It's at:  Camille's Cover Art

The template is just barebones at the moment (and will never likely be fancy, but I do at least want to design a title banner, and build up some hotlinks, etc.)  And so far, just the two covers that I decided I HAD to set type on today.

So anyway, back to having fun. (Wait... oh yeah. Taxes. And insurance paperwork.  Bleh.)

Oh, and here is the linky with all the ROW80 participants.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Charles Lane - Character Actor Extraorinaire

Just found out that today was the birthday of Charles Lane, and  I thought I ought to give him a shout out.  (I didn't have time to draw a picture so here's a photo - it might replace it with a drawing later....)

If you've watched any television or movies that were made between 1930 and 1990, you've likely seen him.  He's the skinny, cranky, sharp-faced bureaucrat or functionary -- sometimes a reporter or even gangster sidekick, sometimes a judge, doctor or lawyer, but most often an inspector or efficiency expert or tax-man, angrily using his power to control his little corner of the world.

I love Charles Lane.  I put him in The Man Who Did Too Much -- cast him as an International Man Of Action.  (A cranky, schoolmarmish man of action, but a man of action nonetheless.)  He plays "Zero" or Bob Giroux, George's co-worker, and also his perfect foil. (George being, if anything, the opposite of cranky.)

Lane was born in 1905 -- he lived to 102.  He was acting all the way up to 90 years old.  If you take a gander at the listings at IMDb, you can see his first fifty or sixty roles were uncredite:  Process server, Doctor, Society Reporter, Shoe Salesman, Bothersome Agent (sort of like what he played in my book!), Shyster Lawyer, lots of hotel clerks.

In 42nd Street, he even played an author.

And after the uncredited roles? He played over three hundred (THREE HUNDRED) credited ones.

So here's to Charles Lane, the sort of actor who kept Hollywood ticking for nearly a century.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sunday Update

Life went and took away my entire evening.  I am stressed to the hilt, and need an episode of Mannix.

So without much ado, here are the five covers I did since the previous post.  I am inordinately fond of the ruby ring.  The texture for the jewel came of a certain amount of kismet and experimentation, and now I want to do more jewel-themed covers. Maybe a jewel heist cover?

And here are three more.  I realized that they are three quite different pictures of intrigue.  The first fanciful and high adventure (which doesn't do well as a thumbnail, alas), the second could be YA or romantic suspense, the third clearly much more hard-boiled.  I think all of them, though, would benefit from a real title, and not the meaningless "Title Here." 

Now off to watch some of Season 4 of Mannix -- a season with Peggy -- a show created by the famous Levinson and Link (who created Columbo and Murder, She Wrote).  A little heart-pounding theme music by Lalo Shifrin, and hip mid-century modern credit sequence.

Oh, and as usual, here is the Linky with all the other ROW80 participants who updated today.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

ROW80 - Four Colorful Covers

Sigh. In three days, only four covers.  (The goal is two a day, uploaded to Self-Pub Book Covers for sale.)  There are additional unfinished covers, but that's all for the finished and uploaded.  (Turns out the same forces that interfere with my writing also interfere with my art.)

Here are today's works:

Now in my defense, I must say that I did spend an inordinate amount of time on a hand drawn background for a cover that likely will not end up on SPBC, AND I had one of my romantic suspense stories up and hand me a solution to a problem that had been bugging me.

This is one of the reasons for announcing that I'll do artwork for this dare: suddenly novels will come out of the woodwork and demand attention. Work every time.

And no, I didn't do anything on writing a regular blog post. Well, okay, I did do some drafting on a post talking about various of these covers, but I blathered, and I felt that getting back to the art was more important than whipping that into shape.

But, I may make an adjustment in my goals, to be one cover a day, and one post about that cover.  Maybe.  We'll see.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

ROW 80 - A Book Cover Dare!


I have decided that I can't be "The Daring Novelist" if I don't do some kind of dare once in while. Even if it's an Art Dare rather than a Writing Dare.

As a result, I'm rejoining A Round Of Words in 80 Days (ROW80), even though it's been going for two weeks already, but I'll be doing artwork and blogging, instead of working on a novel.

(For those of you from ROW80, who are just joining us... life issues have made writing difficult just now.  I am retreating for a while into art. Which is just as much fun.)


*Two covers finished and uploaded to Self-Pub Book Covers every night.  (And I'm not even starting late on that! I've been doing about that many since the first of the month!  However I do want to keep this pace up.)

Once I have 100 covers up at SPBC, though, I will slow down the covers specifically for them.  Some of the covers will be for my own portfolio of premade covers for direct sale. (Or for my own books. Or for my own fun.)

*Write interesting ROW80 update posts, about the art and the stories the covers tell.  Since Self-Pub Book Covers insists on very limited typography options (authors often set their own type with limited online tools on the site -- so our designs have to reflect/account for that), I may do some more flashy typography on some of the covers I post here, just to spread my wings.

*1-2 additional posts a week.  I would like to start writing my "Friday Favorites" again -- commentary on favorite (and often lesser-known) movies, directors, actors, writers, books, whatever.  And I'd like to do posts on art and publishing -- and maybe commentary on other covers -- classic or current covers I stumble across.  Or on design issues that authors and do-it-yourself cover folks need to know.

So for this first update, here are the covers I've done in the last few days (I will post the "comments on the covers" in a separate post which I'll link here and on my next update tomorrow, just because I decided to do this at the last moment, and I'm in a rush):

These are available for purchase at my DaringNovelist portfolio at Self-Pub Book Covers .

OOPS! - edit to add: you can find other folks involved in the ROW80 Dare at the Jan 17 Update Page.

See you in the funny papers!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Every Cover Tells a Story (but not the story you think)

I remember when I took my first design class.  It was the intro class for all art study, and it was all about design principles.  You know, balance, repetition, pattern, etc.  And often our assignments involved cutting out black squares and arranging them in ways that illustrated a design principle.

We weren't supposed to try to make a picture out of them or anything.  Just keep it pure abstract.  But I had already had some design, in film and photography school, and I couldn't help but see even pure abstract in terms of motion.  I always did my designs with an idea to where they were going.  So the squares scattered across a page weren't just showing balance or repetition or whatever the assignment was.  They were falling, or rushing, or tumbling or stopping.

Whenever the teacher looked over my shoulder, she would shake her head and say, accusingly, "You like to tell stories, don't you?"


Yes.  I do.

I also like coming up with ideas for stories more than just about any other thing.  And I like the way conceptual art -- particularly book covers -- "tells a story." 

All book covers tell a story.  All of them. Even plain, boring dissertation covers.  The story they tell is NOT the story inside the book.  Even when the cover has an illustration of a scene from inside the book, they are not telling the story of the book. Only the book itself tells that story.

A book cover tells the story of how you will feel reading the book.

This is why I really enjoy doing pre-made covers.  It's like writing lots of stories. 

Right now, I am not quite ready to open my own independent cover business.  Too much set up involved, lots of skills to polish and a portfolio to fill.

However, I am putting most of the covers up at Self-Pub Book Covers.  You can see my current portfolio there at Daring Novelist Covers.  (I'm also, slowly, setting up a portfolio at Deviant Art.)

I've done several dozen covers in the past few weeks.  Here is a look at this week's covers.

As you can see, it's a widely mixed bunch.  Nonfiction, hard-boiled, cozy/light-hearted.  This is a problem for sales, as I don't as yet have very many of any certain kind for someone to choose from -- but that's the advantage of putting them up on a site like SPBC. There are lots of all kinds of covers there.  Eventually, I'll have more of every type of cover.

In the meantime, here is another dozen, from last week.

My one regret is that SPBC doesn't let the artists do the typography.  Customers have a choice: they can set the type with SPBC's rather limited online interface, or they can download the cover without type and set it at home with their own fonts and software. 

As a result, I have to design around the limited (and often unskilled) typography choices most customers seem to opt for.  Eventually I'll set up my own site, and then I'll have fun with type. (And I'll likely take any covers that don't sell at SPBC, and "refresh" them with better typography.)

In the meantime, I have lots more covers than the ones you see here.  Check out the my full portfolio at SPBC.

See you in the funny papers.